[For the third year, ANCX is publishing the winners of the annual Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award. This year’s theme is “livestock,” which in the Philippines pertains to cattle, pig, goat, carabao and horse. This winner of an honorable mention is about the dirty meanings we associate with our staple meats.]
“You are what you eat,” said American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, as well as the likes of French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and German philosopher Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. And if this is the reasoning to be considered for the livestock consumption in the Philippines, then Filipinos might be in for some linguistic trivia or a few surprises.
The consumption of livestock in the Philippines is a combined national average of at least 10.12 kilograms per capita on a yearly basis, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. For this essay, livestock refers to pork, beef, carabeef, chevon, and horse. In Filipino, these are baboy, baka, kalabaw, kambing, and kabayo.
These are just basic Filipino words for livestock with Spanish or Malay origins. Through the years, these livestock meat names have been used wholly, as root words, and as part of phrases and idioms. More often than not, the new livestock terms have negative connotations.
This is the result of semantic derogation, when there is a shift in word meanings after taking on more negative denotations. This is also seen in other languages such as English, Chinese, Spanish, and Indian. With regard to livestock names, the English language has mostly negative connotations as well such as pigging out, pigsty, having a beef to complain about, getting someone’s goat, horseplay, and horsing around.
In Filipino, the very same livestock names have different meanings, and they have also taken on mostly negative denotations as a singular word, root word, and as part of a phrase.
Here is an alternative menu of Philippine livestock meats with their corresponding famous local dishes as well as their other meanings, including the unfortunate negative definitions and associations starting from the least offensive to the worst:
BAKA - Kalderetang Baka, Mechadong Baka, Nilagang Baka
It denotes uncertainty when pronounced with a stress on the last syllable, and it could mean maybe, might, perhaps, and possibly. It suggests struggle or conflict when it becomes the root word for pakikibaka, makibaka, and pagbabaka.
KABAYO - Tapang Kabayo, Talunang Kabayo, Adobong Kabayo
When pronounced with a stress on the final syllable, it refers to a coconut grater as well as an ironing board as both resemble a horseback. “Ay, kabayo!” is an expression of shock usually exclaimed when one is surprised while “hampas sa kalabaw, sa kabayo ang latay” means a verbal attack that is indirect, or in millennial speak, a shade. Sadly, the horse feels greater pain from the whip.
KALABAW - Bulalong Kalabaw, Tocinong Kalabaw, Tapang Kalabaw
The aforementioned saying also hurts the country’s national animal, the carabao or water buffalo. The poor thing gets whipped by a farmer as it diligently goes about hours of farming chores and tasks. Being overworked is dubbed as “kayod kalabaw.” Meanwhile, “balat kalabaw” means shameless or thick-skinned.
KAMBING - Pinapaitang Kambing, Kalderetang Kambing, Sinampalukang Kambing, Kilawing Kambing
“Amoy kambing” pertains to body odor, particularly the foul armpit smell while “boses kambing” means that one’s voice is unpleasant, just like a goat’s timbre.
BABOY - Adobong Baboy, Sinigang na Baboy, Kinamatisang Baboy, Giniling na Baboy
The worst negative connotations belong to the most consumed livestock meat in the Philippines. Baboy means unsanitary and dirty and “baboy na baboy” is translated as very filthy. As a root word, it has led to the nouns kababuyan and pambababoy as well as the verb binaboy.
But who are we to judge pigs? In George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm,” pigs were kind and harmless until they took on human behavior. This is also highlighted by the year 2000 OPM hit song “Gusto Ko ng Baboy” by Radioactive Sago Project that talked about wanting an actual pig and disliking the various “human pigs” in society who are so “baboy.”
That’s about it for the alternative menu. The menu items are surely palatable and scrumptious, but why do the livestock names have other meanings that have mostly negative connotations? Would you still like to cook stewed conflict or order grilled filth?
Isn’t it ironic that in Filipino, as well as in other languages, the very things that we put into our mouths are the same words that we utter whenever we say something bad or when we bash someone using everyday speech?
If that’s the case, then are we eating our own projections of the negative qualities of livestock animals? And if we are to become what we eat, should we do some diet changes? Or, are names really important? Must we further linguistic updates to bring about semantic progression to highlight the positives of livestock animals in order to counter semantic derogation? Just some food for thought.
[Rosy Mina is a freelance writer, a senior editor at the Film Development Council of the Philippines, as well as a contributor for ABS-CBN News Sports and U.S.-based environmental science news platform Mongabay. This is the second Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (DGF) Food Writing Award for the Ateneo de Manila University Communication Arts graduate and TechCamp Malaysia alum. She also won Honorable Mention in 2019.]